U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, was chosen on a 148-79 vote by the Democratic caucus Thursday to become chair of the House Appropriations Committee, one of the most influential posts on federal spending.
The overwhelming vote came after one of her two rivals, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, withdrew and endorsed DeLauro, leaving the New Haven lawmaker in a two-way contest with Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
“Serving in this role will be one of the greatest honors of my life, and I am eager to get to work and responsibly fund our government in a way that meets the needs of this moment,” DeLauro said.
Her choice makes a short stretch of I-91 in southern New England home to the two key congressional players on taxes and spending; along with DeLauro on appropriations, Richard Neal of Springfield will remain as chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
“This is a historic first for Connecticut. Not since Jonathan Trumbull was elected speaker of the House has Connecticut held such an important position in the United States Congress,” said U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District.
Connecticut politicians rarely have reached the top echelons of leadership in Congress.
Jonathan Trumbull Jr. was the second Speaker of the House, serving from 1791 to 1793. The last committee chair from Connecticut was one of DeLauro’s predecessors in the 3rd District, Robert N. Giaimo, who was House Budget Committee chair when he retired 40 years ago. DeLauro is the first Appropriations chair from Connecticut and only the second from New England since the committee’s creation in 1865.
DeLauro called her appointment an opportunity and a challenge.
“It is a unique time. We are in the middle of a health and economic crisis that must be addressed, communities of color face systemic racism, and we welcome a president with a mandate for change, yet we may still face gridlock,” DeLauro said in a statement. “As House Appropriations chair, I am prepared to deliver the boldest progress possible for Connecticut and families across the country in the next Congress.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, a founding member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, gave a seconding speech that emphasized DeLauro’s ability to establish working relationships with all corners of a caucus that will hold a narrow majority in January.
“We’re Democrats so we have lots of different points of view and lots of disagreements,” Himes said. “The difference between getting a lot of really good stuff done, setting aside [GOP Leader Mitch] McConnell in the Senate right now, is us being very, very graceful and thoughtful in our disagreements, respectful of our different points of view, constructive in how we approach those disagreements.”
Himes said he reminded the caucus that he and DeLauro were on opposite sides of a major policy difference, fast-track authority for the Barack Obama administration to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. Himes is a free-trade proponent, and DeLauro sided with organized labor in opposition.
“Every single day she checked in with me. She put me in touch with Joe Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate [in economics]. She would give me scholarly articles on this and that, introduce me to unions. Never pushed me. I said, ‘Look we’re going to disagree,’ and nobody disagrees more gracefully than Rosa DeLauro.”
The measure narrowly passed in the House, with Himes in support.
“The very next day she was like, ‘How you doin,’ baby? Everything good?“ Himes recalled, laughing.
Himes, who commutes to Washington by Amtrak and whose lower Fairfield County district relies on commuter rail, or at least it did before the pandemic, said he was thrilled to see a fellow rail commuter in a position to direct funding for transportation infrastructure.
“Rosa and I regularly see each other on the Amtrak,” he said. “I’m super excited about that.”
Gov. Ned Lamont, who has been desperate to see action on another COVID-19 stimulus package, applauded DeLauro’s election Thursday.
“Working families across the country will have a true champion ensuring that their voices are heard over the special interests, and that they have a seat at the table as we all work together with President-elect Biden and his administration to build back better from this pandemic,” Lamont said.
After months of inaction, Himes said, there is hope of a deal on a new package, with Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer embracing a scaled-down bipartisan measure as a good first step. With COVID cases spiking, restaurants and other small businesses are desperate for more aid, and unemployment benefits expire in January for many of the newly unemployed.
“There is a very strong and aggressive contingent of members whose position is that we do not go home without a deal. We just can’t go back to the American people,” Himes said. “I’m not telling you they are going to prevail. I’m just telling you it’s very strong movement.”